RT @hillaryrosner: I’ll be reading from crap motels. RT @nijhuism: I’ll be live tweeting from the Aspen Environment Forum starting Tuesd …
I’m going to write this in a stream of consciousness, the same way I experienced Joplin.
It was my first time covering — more accurately, trying to cover — a disaster. The National desk knows I am a weather geek, so I came close to covering the tornadoes in North Carolina in April, and then the tornadoes in Alabama earlier this month. But the timing wasn’t right in either case.
This time, it was. I happened to be awake at 2 a.m. for a 6 a.m. ET flight to Chicago on Monday morning, just 12 hours after the tornado struck in Joplin. While in the air, I wondered if I should volunteer to go there. When I landed, I looked at the departure board and saw that a flight was leaving for Kansas City in 45 minutes. On a whim, I walk-ran to the gate and asked if I could buy a standby ticket. The agent said yes.
Two calls to New York later, I booked the 8 a.m. CT flight. I told the National desk that I’d be in Joplin at noon local time. I had no maps, no instructions, no boots. I had a notebook but no pen.
What I learned: always carry extra pens.
My cell phone was dying, but I reserved a car online before take-off. On the flight, I wrote a blog post about Oprah.
I was in the rental car at 9:45 and on the highway three minutes later. 176 miles to go, fueled by granola bars purchased at Whole Foods the day before. On the way, there was a conference call with the National desk. I was to travel to the ruined hospital and try to interview doctors, patients and other survivors. My worry, of course, was that the survivors would be far away from the hospital.
Monica Davey, a Times correspondent in Chicago, texted me the hospital address. My iPhone, now charging through my laptop, showed the way ahead. But as I approached Joplin, cell service began to degrade dramatically.
I’m aware that what I’m going to say next will probably sound petty, given the scope of the tragedy I was witnessing. But the lack of cell service was an all-consuming problem. Rescue workers and survivors struggled with it just as I did.
What I learned: It’s easy to scoff at the suggestion that satisfactory cell service is a matter of national security and necessity. But I won’t scoff anymore. If I were planning a newsroom’s response to emergencies, I would buy those backpacks that have six or eight wireless cards in them, all connected to different cell tower operators, thereby upping the chances of finding a signal at any given time.
This is my first time coming upon a natural disaster as a reporter. I suppose my instinct should be “first, do no harm.”
Entering Joplin, I drove along 32nd Street, the south side of the devastated neighborhood, getting my bearings, wondering if it was safe to drive over power lines, looking for a place to leave my car. I parked a block from the south side of the hospital and approached on foot, taking as many pictures as possible, knowing I’d need them later to remember what I was seeing.
I tried to talk to a couple of nurses. They said they were not allowed to.
I started trying to upload pictures to Instagram. It sometimes took what seemed like ten minutes of refreshing to upload just one picture.
A view of the north side of the hospital in Joplin. http://instagr.am/p/EoTHO/
What I learned: In areas with spotty service, Instagram and Twitter apps need to be able to auto-upload until the picture or tweets gets out. (I’m sure there’s a technical term for this.)
I walked to 26th Street, north of the hospital, where the satellite trucks had piled up, and found The Weather Channel crew that had arrived in Joplin just after the storm. After interviewing the crew, we watched the search of a flattened house. That’s when I was able to see the extent of the damage to the neighborhood for the first time.
Part of me thought, “This is a television story more than a print story.” It was an appeal to the heart more than the brain.
I started trying to tweet everything I saw — the search of the rubble pile, the sounds coming from the hospital, the dazed look on peoples’ faces.
RT @Globecarolynyj: Crazy story about a controversial theory about comets — and a scientist who is hiding his identity - http://ow.ly/5 …
by Maria Popova
What single Chinese men have to do with evolution and insults from Virginia Woolf. We love, love, love words and language. And what better way to celebrate them than through the written word itself? Today, we turn to five of our favorite books on language, spanning the entire spectrum from serious science to serious entertainment value. THE STUFF OF THOUGHT Harvard’s Steven Pinker is easily the world’s most prominent and prolific psycholinguist, whose multi-faceted work draws on visual cognition, evolutionary science, developmental psychology and computational theory of mind to explain the origin and function of language. The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window into Human Nature reverse-engineers our relationship with language, exploring what the words we use reveal about the way we think. The book is structured into different chapters, each looking at a different tool we use to manage information flow, from naming to swearing and politeness to metaphor and euphemism. From Shakespeare to pop songs, Pinker uses a potent blend of digestible examples and empirical evidence to distill the fundamental fascination of language: What we mean when we say. Sample The Stuff of Thought with Pinker’s fantastic 2007 TED talk:” —Meta: 5 Must-Read Books About Language | Brain Pickings
Idea retraction: Did Picasso suffer migraines? Do ‘guitar nipple,’ ‘cello scrotum’ exist? Ask pigeons
Pablo Picasso, 1962, via Wikimedia
Cephalalgia published a lovely piece online this month. The abstract is a refreshing bit of honesty:
It is widely believed that Pablo Picasso suffered from migraine. The main cause for this is our suggestion made 10 years ago that some of Picasso’s paintings resemble migraine auras. Here we critically look back at our own hypothesis. We conclude that, although the idea is still fascinating, there is no proof of Picasso suffering from migraine with aura.
In other words, say authors Michel Ferrari and Joost Haan: Go ahead, blame us for this important clinical finding, which we first described in an editorial in Cephalalgia in 2000. We’re retracting the idea, but not before we have some fun with it.
So we figured we’d do the same.
The authors describe a number of famous cases of historical diagnoses such as Hildegard of Bingen, an abbess and mystic of the 12th century whose work has led some to suggest she was a migraneur. It’s difficult to confirm such diagnoses, of course, and the authors draw a parallel to other pronouncements by doctors:
Unfortunately, doctors can be misled, just as any other human being. When a medical ‘expert’ makes a statement, there are not many who doubt its truth and investigate the sources. [RW note: Ahem.] Remarkable examples of this are the ‘guitar nipple’ and the ‘cello scrotum’. These were presented as credible diseases (29,30), and quickly were established in the spectrum of health problems associated with making music (31). However, both appeared to be an invention by the authors (32).
Perhaps after 34 years it’s time for us to confess that we invented cello scrotum.
We’re not sure if that’s the sort of thing you can patent, but in any case those intellectual property rights would have expired by now. The letter from the inventors also claimed that a 1974 BMJ letter describing “guitar nipple” — and which prompted their own 1974 letter — was also a hoax, although the BMJ said they couldn’t verify that.
Now back to Picasso. The authors make a comparison we haven’t seen before: Scientists vs. pigeons.
As mentioned before, the audience of a scientiﬁc meeting could not distinguish paintings of Picasso from those by migraine patients (10). It has been shown, however, that even pigeons can learn to recognize Picasso’s paintings (33). When confronted with paintings of Monet (who suﬀered from eye disease) and Picasso (from migraine?), the pigeons had no problems distinguishing them. They even showed a generalization from Monet’s to Cezanne’s and Renoir’s paintings or from Picasso’s to Braque’s and Matisse’s paintings. Showing Monet’s paintings upside down disrupted the discrimination, whereas showing those of Picasso upside down did not.
What appears next is perhaps our favorite line in the piece:
So there was no need to write the present article for pigeons, as they are not to be fooled.
We presume that such an article would have been written in pidgin.
The authors conclude, referring to the the “illusory splitting” phenomenon that they suggested in 2000 could link the experience of migraines to Picasso’s art:
Does cello playing cause pain in the scrotum? Do pigeons like Picasso’s paintings? We do not know. Picasso’s migraine is a wonderful hypothesis, but without evidence. It is impossible to choose between an inspiration for illusory splitting or just an illusion.
Sometimes, it would seem, science is more art than…well, science.
I like the cubist headline.